Betting baseball: When juice is on the loose

April 4, 2019 12:17 AM

If you’re like many new baseball bettors, you’re getting excited about all the interesting developments happening so far in the 2019 Major League season. But you’re not comfortable laying the money line prices you see on big favorites. 

In football or basketball, you were dealing with 11/10 on point spreads (risking $11 for every $10 you were trying to win). That was true whether the favorite was -4 points, -8 points, or -15 points. In baseball, if you see a big favorite you want to bet on…you may have to risk $22 or more just to win $10…or risk $10 win a measly $4.50 on that same favorite. 

One option brings a high level of risk you’re not comfortable with. The other brings back such a low return that it’s barely any fun to win. 

In this uncomfortable mental state, too many novice baseball gamblers consider the run-line. Sports books offer an alternative to using money lines that allows you to lay -1.5 runs when betting a favorite for less perceived vigorish. That -220 favorite to win the game straight up that we just talked about might be -1.5 runs at -120 (risk $12 to win $10.) 

It’s easy to talk yourself into a blowout scenario for the team you want to take. They wouldn’t be favored by that much to begin with if they weren’t the much better team. All they need to do is win by two or more runs. And, heck, if they lose the game outright, you saved yourself a lot of money! Why lose $22 when you can only lose $12?

There are many problems with this approach. First and foremost, sports books don’t offer alternatives that are better for you. They offer alternatives that are better for them. The value of the run you’re giving up is significant. It’s a form of vigorish in itself. If you ever hear a pundit saying they’re laying -1.5 runs to “lower the juice,” you should tune them out for good. They didn’t “lower” the juice, they actually inflated the juice by turning much of it into a valuable run.  

Secondly, many bettors lured to this approach are looking at home favorites. Home favorites won’t bat in the ninth inning if they’re ahead after 8.5 innings. You will be giving up 11% of your offensive innings in these games! That’s a “run vigorish” and an “inning vigorish” sports books are charging for the honor of feeling better about your bet. 

Also worth remembering, teams often resort to “one-run strategies” late in close games. They’re not trying to explode for a big inning. They’ll sacrifice outs by way of bunts or fly balls to advance what could be the game winning tally. It’s okay with them if they win 3-2 or 5-4. Those favorites could care less about your bet.

In future baseball discussions, we’ll talk about strategies where laying -1.5 runs might be justified. For now, you should avoid any urges you may be having to “outsmart sports books” with this proposition. The cost is usually too high.


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